Corporate Leadership: The Cost of Carousel Decision Making — Or Lack Thereof


The only thing worse than design by committee is decision making by committee. Business isn’t jury duty: not every single person in the company has to be unequivocally on board with a decision. What you do need is a clear vision, a clear decision-making process and a clear chain of command.

Without these, you can end up in a state of analysis paralysis. There’s so much research, review and costing going on that there’s no way forward. The result? A whole lot of costly, time-consuming groundwork with nothing much to show for it.

We’ve seen it happen all too often. Companies will spend huge amounts of time and energy talking around a project only to come away with the equivalent of a hung jury verdict. Spending upwards of $10K doing a feasibility study on a project that would cost less than that isn’t the best use of resources. Especially when the end result is no result

The cost of not making a decision goes beyond opportunity cost. It’s right there on your bottom line.

A Chain of Command, Not a Loop of Command

This is why a decision making chain of command is so essential. It’s good business and good leadership. Rather than having everything report up the chain for feedback, review and further iteration that starts the cycle all over again, empower your team to be able to make decisions.

Start by categorizing the types of decisions that come through your company. At one end of the scale you’ll have the high-impact, big bet decisions. And at the other you’ll have lower-impact, frequently occuring decisions. The former are for your higher-level leaders. The latter are ideal for teams or individuals. Why? They’re rote, familiar and relatively low-stakes. 

As such, you can easily define and delimit them — giving them to your team to handle without your input. Give these kinds of decision-making responsibilities to those closest to the issue, as they’ll be best placed to deal with them quickly and effectively. Plus delegating responsibility helps build leadership within the team, growing decision-making capacity throughout your business.

Before giving your teams carte blanche to sign off on any project, put some processes in place. Have a policy around factors like scope, budget and decision-making rubrics. Anything that falls within these limits is fine for your team to move ahead with (with your final sign-off, if desired). If a project goes beyond those limits, then it can be escalated. The result is a more empowered, accountable team, better decision making, and less work coming up the chain to you.

Focus on What’s Ahead, Not Sunk Costs

An essential part of decision making is to be able to look ahead, not back. A common mistake is to make decisions based on “sunk costs“, the time and money already invested into a particular project or opportunity. Doing so can cause you to throw in the towel on a good idea, or pursue something not worth the effort.

Instead strive to make decisions based on what’s ahead. Play the offensive with your budgets and resources, not the defensive. A good idea is still a good idea even if you’ve been spinning your wheels trying to get there. Once you’ve crunched the numbers and gauged alignment with your business goals, start moving. stellapop-click-to-tweet Nothing says you have to do it all at once, or spend money that you don’t have.

For larger projects, take a step-by-step approach, adding new deliverables as desired outcomes are met. For smaller projects, reduce barriers towards that initial “yes”. With basic rubrics for decision making in place, pre-determined allowances for each department or business unit, and nominated “decision makers” at hand, your company can be much more agile in moving forward with a project.

And even if something doesn’t work? You can use that as feedback to refine your efforts going ahead. Learning from past action is much more valuable than learning from past inaction. stellapop-click-to-tweet

Have a business idea you can’t seem to move ahead with? We can help!


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